Simon Mark Smith’s Autobiography Chapter 23
“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages”.
“Shakespeare” As you Like It Act II, Scene VII, Line 138
I would often have nightmares where I’d feel a malevolent presence. They would sometimes start off with me seeing a tiny dot in the distance which would then get bigger and closer. Eventually, it would feel like it was suffocating me. From the moment I saw it in the distance, I’d be filled with fear bit could not wake myself or escape its approach. One day, I was watching a horror drama on TV that had a figure standing behind a door, its face couldn’t be seen, and I was overcome with the same fear as in those nightmares.
* * *
Archetypes Part 2
For this chapter, I had been thinking about the Commedia de l’Arte, which was a form of theatre that Punch and Judy came from and had originated in Italy. I was wondering if it had possibly developed because Italian society was defined by very recognisable archetypes. Even now Italian culture and language has a feeling of being larger than life.
The wearing of masks goes back at least as far as 40,000 years ago, so, the Commedia de l’Arte, which became more established in the mid-1500’s was a relatively new development. The oldest surviving mask in the world today is around 9,000 years old and was most likely worn during rituals and ceremonies as a representation of dead ancestors – which in its own way is a kind of theatre, and not creepy at all. In Rome, the word persona meant “mask”, as well as meaning “a citizen of Rome”. The Greeks also used masks especially as theatrical devices and even today the commonly accepted sign of theatre, the happy and sad masks symbol, comes from the ancient Greek Muses, Thalia (the muse of comedy), and Melpomene (the muse of tragedy).
At first, I wondered if cultures that became more sophisticated recognised their archetypes and consequently used them more, especially in theatre, more than primitive ones. But then I started to get the feeling that there might be more of a correlation between self-awareness, and humour. It’s almost as if we have now passed the peak of self-awareness and moving away from our archetypes. And, as a consequence, it’s become mentally unhealthier. Many people in our society recognise how we have lost our connection with nature, the land, weather, and ourselves. Doctors and psychiatrists will throw drugs at mental health problems, but I can’t help but get an uncomfortable feeling that something is amiss.
In the UK, we have all but completely lost our connection with traditions that brushed pushed us up against our archetypes. Near to where I live, there is a chalk figure of men with a large penis, and some of the towns perform annual ceremonies that date back thousands of years. I wonder if it will end up being censored for fear of upsetting someone. In the big cities, it is laughter that greets the Morris dancers, nor an understanding of their history. Likewise, the druids at Stonehenge are seen as cranks, and the blacked-up faces of the Mummers just seen as racists.
Mummer’s Day was formerly known as “Darkie Day”, modern-day organisers changed the name as a compromise when the Equalities Commission confronted them. It is an ancient pagan midwinter festival and was formerly celebrated in villages throughout England, whereas now it’s mainly only in Cornwall. The reason people blacked their faces was to avoid being recognised by potential employers, as mummers were not renowned for their sobriety. In 2006 Diane Abbott MP put a motion before parliament calling for the Mummer’s Day festival in Padstow to be banned. To me, it feels like we are hollowing out our culture until eventually, just a hollow shell will remain, and by hollow, I mean, meaningless. We are good at taking things away but don’t replace them with anything substantial. At one point communities sang together, now we have Karaoke, one people danced together now people dance in clubs imbued with drugs and violence. We live in an era of plastic.
* * *
Now, you might be wondering why I’m going on about archetypes and masks so much in an autobiography about someone growing up in the suburbs of London. For me though, to try to understand what was happening in me both as I fell, rose and later falls and rises means getting to see something of both my internal and external worlds. Using the notion of archetypes may well. For instance, if I look back at me at 6 years old dressed up in armour and a Roman soldier’s helmet, marching around, I can’t help but see an archetype dominating at that point. And of course, when we meet an archetype, it’s not just about what it is, but why it is. One can argue that all human endeavours are a call to be loved, but just above that level, one can ask why in a more useful way. If someone plays the fool, or conversely the sage-like, then what are they telling us, and why do they want to tell us that. You could ask the same about me writing all of this. Am I trying to sound clever because really I feel stupid?
Carl Jung, the psychoanalyst, realised that in many ways he was in the same mental state as many of his patients. Especially in the sense that all of us are fragmented, divided, and ruled by unconscious dynamics. Likewise, we are generally unconscious of what’s going on behind the social masks of those we interact with. So, when mum asked me why I did something, it really was true that I didn’t know, well not consciously anyway and even now I would struggle.
There’s also an issue that seems to be coming to the fore in 2018 and that is we are living in a world where most of the methods used to change people’s behaviour— be it neuro-linguistic programming or cognitive behavioural therapy—have limited results. Whilst at the same time our cultures are attempting to use social engineering and other programming methods, especially via the media, to do something that is quite clearly unsuccessful. At the moment populism has flabbergasted many, and given the amount of propaganda put out by the mainstream media services it is amazing at how little an effect they are having. I would argue that the Internet is probably a big part of the reason.
Governments that attempt to “educate” people also fail because they rely on the belief that they can train the subconscious and control the primal forces within us. It’s true some programming methods might be effective in some way for some time, but generally, in terms of taking full control of our psyche, they have no chance.
* * *
I was talking to a friend about this the other day and they asked me ‘So, what archetype am I”. The real answer would probably be all of them because if one starts to list out what archetypes may exist we would all recognise that we have traces of every one of them in us.
A few weeks ago, I was talking with two female friends and one was complaining that her husband wants her to talk dirty to him and she feels self-conscious and can’t let go in bed. The other friend looked at her and said: “You need to get more in contact with your inner whore”. When the other one stopped laughing she said: “You’re right, I probably do need to”.
* * *
After Mum and John returned from their honeymoon our routine continued as it had done before, but as John tried to take on a more fatherly role I became increasingly resistant. A pattern of conflict resulting in full blown arguments would regularly take place. There was always a moment where I would decide to flip, I could feel it coming but I would, at a certain point, consciously choose to go into meltdown. In one instance, I walked out and hid in the bushes to the side of the flats. I could see John come out to find me, I heard him calling but stayed still and enjoyed the power of being camouflaged. Eventually, as it got colder I had to go back. Mum answered the door. I don’t remember what she said then but later still in silent mode, I had gotten into bed.
Mum came in and said “If you can’t behave we’ll have to stop your pocket money”
“Well, you would say that wouldn’t you, you fucking Jewish cunt,” I said in a somewhat vitriolic tone, and thinking that wasn’t quite hurtful enough I thought I’d go for the jugular so added
“Yes, and by the way your cooking is shit, all you can cook is chips”.
Like you, possibly, there’s a part of me that’d like to beat that kid into submission. At least you don’t have to live with the fact that I was that little… Unfortunately, in terms of classic storylines this wasn’t the lowest point of the arc of my demise, there’s plenty more to come. However, the seeds of my arc of salvation were also beginning to take root. When people ask what it was that made me change there isn’t one answer, there were lots of factors including those beyond our control, such as genetic predisposition, the archetypes dominating my hidden internal mindscape and the coincidences that lead us to life-changing intersections. There were always positive and negative archetypes vying for dominance simultaneously.
* * *
Sometimes, especially on days when I didn’t see friends, I would cycle to “Record Rendezvous’ which was a record shop on Stafford Road in Wallington. A man who was balding, with greased back black hair and a purple cardigan owned it. He was in his 50’s or 60’s. To a 12-year-old anyone over 30 looks at least 50. There were several booths where customers could listen to an album in. It became a sanctuary where I could while away some time. Music tends to be very important to teenagers. Maybe it’s because it helps fill empty spaces of time with an almost trance-like meditative state of mind, maybe it’s because it allows people to see that what they are feeling is universal and therefore makes them feel more accepted and for some it’s a way of showing allegiances and rejection of others too, especially one’s parents. Ironically I liked the music that John and mum liked.
* * *
Within 6 weeks of being married mum became pregnant, but wouldn’t realise until sometime in November. I was struck by the feeling of how strange it would be to have a new brother or sister arriving soon. The dynamic changed during this time, partly because a protective circle tends to be drawn around a pregnant woman, and on top of that, mum and John started to look for a new place to live. Change was in the air.
* * *
Trip to Italy 1977
Around the time when mum became pregnant, I went to Italy on a school trip. I had never flown before. On the airplane, I sat next to Mr. Jefferson who was the teacher who’d given me the chocolate bribe not to go to Germany. He was also a clergyman and insisted on wearing his clerical collar because, as he said, he was “closer to his boss”. We were also flying in an old Russian Aeroflot plane which had flock green wallpaper. Mr. Jefferson was quite nervous. I loved being in a plane from outset, the taking off and landing thrilled me, and back then kids were allowed to visit the cockpit. Even the turbulence was exciting.
As we disembarked in Rome there were soldiers and armed police around us, in England guns were rarely seen, the night air was hot and exciting. This was my first experience of feeling I was in a foreign land.
When we got to the hotel even the bathrooms had strange devices in. I’d never seen a bidet, and when breakfast came it wasn’t like anything I’d experienced before. We were sat on a large open-air balcony, the morning sun was already warming the air and then a waiter served us bread and jam, drinking chocolate and coffee. (I couldn’t believe that there were no eggs and bacon on their way). I don’t remember the waiter’s face but his name was Joseph and if any of the boys annoyed him he’d grab the top of their arm between his thumb and finger and pinch it so hard they’d be in pain for quite a while. Of course, the boys laughed, this was fun. On our second day, one of the boys threw a thin sheet of cheese over the balcony and about 20 minutes later the police appeared because it had landed on one of the Russian Embassy security cameras. I probably shouldn’t mention that after all we don’t want to give any terrorists any ideas. Back then even being told off by the cops was interesting. This was the 1970’s. School trip accommodation was rough. The bathroom was dirty when we arrived, the beds were uncomfortable and when I threw one of my shoes at one of the other boys in my room it bounced off him, and hit the curtains which gracefully fell down.
12 years old was a bit young to really appreciate what we were experiencing in terms of tourism. Rome was beautiful, but to many of us, it was merely a backdrop to us playing around. In the Sistine Chapel we were blowing out candles, in the hotel we were playing dare with Joseph and his cow bite fingers, and when we went out alone we’d end up in cafes drinking cappuccinos and playing songs on the jukebox. I tried to get it to play “Yes sir I can boogie” but instead it played an Italian song which seemed to make a few of the older customers happy. The smell of chocolate, coffee and the feel of the Rome afternoon air was magical. There were posters big posters up all over for Star Wars but of course, they were in Italian, it was like being in a dream world.
* * *
After a few days in Rome, we journeyed to Sorrento near Naples. Our hotel was right next to a church bell tower. We obviously got the hotels that normal customers wouldn’t go near. Even so, this one was a bit cleaner. On our first evening, some sparkling red wine was given to us by our female guide who’d joined us. She taught me how to eat spaghetti and that if the wine was sweet and rubbish enough I’d possibly like it. When I joked with her that I might come to her room later she said her door would be locked. Somehow it ended up with me trying my key in her door and to her amazement, it worked. (We were both standing in the corridor at the time, it wasn’t a case of her being amazed because I tried it while she was in bed at 2 am – although I’m sure the thought had crossed my mind – ). Anyway, I imagine she pushed a wardrobe up against the door from then on.
Some of the boys discovered “bangers”, they are probably also known as “firecrackers”. So along with the church bells and the bangers, very little sleep took place especially as the Church Bells started at 5 am. Some of the boys met up with the girls from other school parties and snogged them in the street, to my utter disgust, envy and disappointment.
As for touristy stuff, we visited Pompeii, where the sculptural casts of figures who died almost 2000 years ago made such an impact on me, that for many years afterwards I would be haunted by them and do artworks based on them. I didn’t take many photos but bought sheets of slides ready-made for tourists. They were so over colourised that in their own way they were garish artworks. Maybe in a way, they gave me permission, subconsciously, to make my own photography lean somewhere between photography and painting in my later years.
We also visited Vesuvius. One of the teachers told me years later that I’d sat on the edge with my legs dangling in towards the crater and didn’t realise the earth was giving way beneath me, so, he grabbed me. He says he saved my life, but I don’t remember that at all.
Now, in 2018, most days I visit a Neapolitan café in Eastbourne called Mamma Mi. I’ve always thought I’d like to re-visit Italy, but so far my daily café jaunts are as far as I’ve got.
The Priests, The soldiers, Joseph the clown, the naughty boys, the statues of death, the ruined cities, the old men in the cafes. Now they are just faceless characters in my memory where for moments I visit them briefly, vividly, even now, 41 years later.
* * *
When I got back from the school trip to Italy, mum and John’s house search was in full swing. Every house we visited I liked, except for the one they chose, and that was because it was on another main road and I was worried that any cats we’d have would get run over.
I wasn’t going to be around when the move was scheduled to take place though, Roehampton hospital wanted me to come in for surgery to have my right foot amputated. All in all, I was booked in to stay in hospital for 6 weeks. This meant that I would not be home for the move or the birth of my new sibling.
* * *
1984 Tavistock – Therapy
Mrs. H: “Do you think you planned to have the amputation at the same time as the birth so you could compete for attention when the baby was coming, or maybe it was you saying
““Look I’m going through more suffering than you mum””?”
Me: “I don’t think so, I didn’t choose the dates, it was the hospital.”
Mrs. H: “Well it’s possible that even if you didn’t make it happen, you may have had those kinds of feelings”
Me: “I don’t remember thinking that”
Mrs. H: “Well, it might be worth thinking about it”
* * *
My Right Foot
1978 Roehampton Hospital
There was a long L shaped corridor that ran through Roehampton Hospital. As mum and I walked along it, it was completely empty. It must have been late because it was a July night but it was already dark. It felt like a dreamscape, and I was very aware that the foot I was walking on would not exist in a few days’ time. The reality of it was hitting me.
Mum kissed me goodbye on the ward after stopping for a cup of tea in the lounge and then left me in the company of the night nurse and a teenage guy, called James, who was a wheelchair user. He and I seemed to hit it off. This was going to be my home for some time but at first, I was feeling the loss of home, a well-known but still disliked feeling.
The next day was a normal busy one on the ward. I got to chat to loads of the staff I knew there. I think my main topic of conversation was how much was the amputation going to hurt. They all reassured me that it wasn’t going to hurt much.
The day after that it was the day. This time I didn’t fight the nurses when it came to having a pre-med injection. I probably behaved myself because the nurse who had been assigned to look after me was Sandra, the same person who had been the carer in Pastens whose head I was thinking about kicking until she warned me of what would happen if I tried. I don’t think I’d improved in her opinion of me this time either because the day before, I told her I could see her underwear. Obviously, I thought this was hilarious but the rest of the world thought it was rather crass and immature. Still, behind my comment was probably a feeling of attraction towards her which was a bit kinky really, and had definitely been absent when I was 6.
She came to the operating theatre with me. My last memory before passing out was trying to resist the anaesthetic and looking up at Sandra’s face which was spinning around just like you see in the movies. It was a bit too much to cope with so I closed my eyes. I could hear a buzzing noise that got increasingly very loud and then stopped suddenly. I was aware I was in the recovery unit. Then back to sleep.
When I woke up I was in a bedroom near the sister’s office, John’s parents were standing at the bottom of my bed and a nurse was sitting in the chair next to me reading a book.
“Sorry, I can’t really chat much, I’m feeling very sleepy,” I said to them.
Connie, John’s mum, chuckled and said “Don’t worry, we’ve just come to check you’re ok. You just go to sleep”
So, I did.
At one point, a bit later, I woke and asked the nurse sitting next to me if they’d done the surgery because I could still feel my foot. Maybe they’d tried to straighten it after all. She told me they’d cut my foot off, which was reassuring and frightening at the same time.
The next thing I felt was a lot of pain on my leg. I had kicked the frame that was keeping the covers off my legs and it landed on my right leg, just where the cut had been made.
* * *
1978 – Roehampton Hospital
The next few days were spent in bed, being sick as I always am after anaesthetic and slowly coming around. I had a few visitors pop in, mainly mum, John, John’s parents, and brother. My leg hurt quite a bit, like someone squeezing my foot hard.
A few evening’s after the surgery a couple of nurses thought I ought to get some fresh air so they took me down to a pub in Roehampton. The problem was, every crack in the pavement reverberated up into the wheelchair and I felt a lot of pain. I was glad to get back to the ward and bed.
When I said to one of the staff “I thought you said it wouldn’t hurt” she said “I was just trying to make you feel better. Of course, having your foot cut off is going to hurt.”
“Well I just wish you’d been more honest,” I said indignantly
“Listen, Simon, if I’d been honest how would you have felt?”
“And would that have made you feel better”
I’m surprised she didn’t say those famous Jack Nicholson lines
‘The Truth? You can’t handle the truth’
But then again that film hadn’t come out yet.
Once I started to feel a bit perkier I was moved to a room in the teenage department. Mum and John brought my stereo over, along with loads of my records and a painting by numbers set which I painted over, completely ignoring the numbers and outlines, instead I offered up my own version. Even back then, painting was never a numbers game for me.
* * *
It didn’t take long to start feeling at home, maybe compared to the isolation I felt when I was home this was a welcome relief, in fact I think sometimes I felt I had too many visitors.
There would also be a change of people staying on the ward most weeks so I’d get to meet some old friends and make new ones too. One guy who came to stay had short arms and no legs. One day a pretty girl who was on the ward came to my room and this guy came in there too. I don’t know how we got into this position but we were all on the bed. I was snogging with the girl and this guy (who I’ll call Colin) was on the bed too, God knows how he got there. So, I was merrily having a kiss with the girl, while “Colin” was undoing her top which had a kind of shoelace design. I was interested in his progress because, well because, she had breast and I was 13 and wanted to see them. Slowly, using his mouth, he pulled the laces backward out of their holes. When I say slowly I mean fast, because obviously for Colin this was going to be a ground-breaking moment. Finally, he’d undone the laces as far as was necessary. He looked up at me, I stopped kissing, smiled and nodded affirmatively at him. At which point, the door to my room swung open. All of us looked towards it.
“What do you think you’re doing?” bellowed the sister of the ward, Gwen Mears.
Colin looked at me, he had the same look on his face that the squirrel who almost gets the nut has in the beginning of the Ice Age films.
“Well?” said Sister Mears
“Nothing,” I said.
“Shit,” Colin said in disbelief
And within about 5 seconds Sister Mears had Colin back in the chair and shoved down the corridor, the girl off the bed and out of the room and her finger wagging in my face.
Other telling offs I got included me playing my music too loud, as a teenager, there’s duty to make sure the whole world is made aware of the brilliant music they are missing. Just like an evangelical preacher I wanted to spread the songs of Elvis to the heathen masses trying to work on the ward. I also got a stern telling off for telling the physiotherapists to “Fuck Off” when they were trying to get me to stand up. The pain was excruciating when we tried and I tend to live by the maxim of a problem shared is a problem doubled, so if I was going to feel pain so was the physio.
“Listen,” she said, “you won’t get better if you don’t stand up, remember, no pain no gain”
I looked at her and said “I have a better version of that saying, “”no pain. Good!”””
I eventually decided to lower my leg and learn to stand on my own one foot in my own time. I wasn’t keen on being told what to do.
* * *
I was beginning to get frustrated about being in a wheelchair so the people who made artificial limbs said they could make me some crutches that had sockets on the top for me to put my arms in to. Once they made these I was able to propel my wheelchair by using them to push along the ground with. As I started to get more confident with them I could stand up and move quite quickly on them. Unfortunately, at one point when I entered the lounge, James thought it would be funny to throw the contents of his teacup at me which got me in the eyes, resulting in me landing on my stump. Some blood started showing through the bandages which probably meant I was set back a week or so.
There were advantages to not walking, like being given a bed bath. One nurse who was probably in her late 50’s (she had white hair) decided that she would give my penis a good wash. When I realised I was going to come I got all shy and insisted that I finish washing it. I don’t think she was being inappropriate, I think at 13 it only takes three up and down passes and it’s all over. Once I got older I could manage 5, unless I was in a hurry, then it’d take ages.
A week after falling on my stump sister Mears wanted to take the bandage off so she could remove the stitches. She took me in to a room and started to unwind the bandage. There was a lot of bandage, but as she got about halfway through the material became completely blood soaked. I am not one to feel faint at the sight of blood but I don’t think I’ve seen so much blood in my life. It just went on and on until near the end there were mainly big black clots which had to be peeled off my leg (I do hope you’re not eating). Eventually, it was all off, Sister Mears, who wasn’t particularly gentle grabbed my stump so she could have a close inspection and remove the stitches. I think I shrieked, but I don’t think it registered to her. At least I was now into the next stage of healing.
* * *
Aside from my own guests there were also volunteer guests who would come in to help. These included a man I liked a lot, I wanted to be suave like him (It was the 70’s, suave was cool still then) he had flecks of grey hair near his temples so I’d put talcum powder in my hair to get the same effect. He knew a woman who owned a boutique shop in Putney who invited a couple of us to a tea party there. One of her other guests at the party was an actress called Penny Irvin who played one of the busty secretaries in a very popular series on TV called “Are You Being Served”. She was also a frequent topless model on the Sun paper’s page 3 feature. I was in my element, sandwiches, fizzy drinks, cake, sweets, and cleavage. I can’t remember much from that meeting except they were all very sweet and friendly to us.
I also had another volunteer visitor who’d come to the ward to help called Shirley. She was probably about a year older than me. We ended up having a snog, and after she went I fell in love with her. We wrote a few letters, probably in which I announced my undying love for her. She kindly kept writing back every now and again, and then one day I realised we’d stopped writing to each other, but that was alright because I’d probably snogged someone else by then and I think even I knew it wasn’t going to go anywhere. Oh yes, and she told me she had a boyfriend, that helped too.
There was kindness all around me. My mum’s cousin Paul and his wife, Ann, would come to see me a lot and I hardly knew them. My form teacher Mr. Shaw came to see me and brought along a card from my class which included taunts, but I actually laughed with them this time. In many ways, I was having a lovely summer holiday in hospital.
* * *
One evening I got a message relayed to me that mum had given birth to a boy, I felt elated. I didn’t know at the time but she’d had a very difficult labour then had to have an emergency caesarean because the umbilical cord had wound around the baby’s neck. When mum was under the anaesthetic she had some nightmares, which felt like the film 2001 a Space Odyssey. She was so traumatised by it all she didn’t ever want to have any more children.
One of the Social workers on the ward was concerned that I ought to visit my mother and the new baby as otherwise I might feel left out, so she offered to take me to visit mum in hospital. The sister in charge of the ward my mum was on made it very clear she didn’t want a disabled person coming in and upsetting the mothers to be, so, I would have to be brought in covertly with my arms covered up. The social worker was livid but I don’t think I really felt anything about it. I hadn’t got in touch with my disability politics archetype yet.
It was good to see mum and the new baby who was called Stephen. Whilst I was there a photographer came around with a Polaroid camera. He took a photo of me with mum and Stephen and left the instant photo with mum. Later when John turned up he was annoyed that I was in the picture and he wasn’t. I was kind of glad to go back to the normality of the hospital ward.
In relation to healing and getting back on to two feet, things were beginning to move on. A provisional prosthetic leg was being made and a couple of weekend home visits were arranged to allow mum to get organised with Stephen in the new house. Also, it would give me a chance for me to work out how I was going to cope at home with only one foot while my new leg was being made.
* * *
There was a guy staying on the ward who I was getting on with very well. His name was Lee. We had the same interests, breaking the rules and flirting with girls. He and I would hang around the psychiatric wards and chat the nutty/vulnerable pretty women up, sometimes we’d get invited into their rooms until one of the nurses would kick us out.
Lee told me that one of the girls on our ward (so wasn’t a psychiatric patient) liked kissing and having her breasts played with. The girl was called Lulu and was very willing to play around. One day I said to Lee “Are you going to see Lulu tonight?”
“Nae Simon” he shook his head.
He was from Yorkshire, hence the accent. A bit later I could hear him hopping up the corridor to her room. But the last footsteps didn’t sound right, more of a slop than a flop. Then I heard him shout “For Fuks sake”. He’d hopped right on to her urine bag which had burst up his leg. I imagine some people would pay extra for that kind of experience, but for Lee, it was a step too far.
* * *
There was another guy on the ward from Barnsley, the same town as Lee, called Peter. There had been a program on TV about him called “Our Peter”, which was partly made because of the severity of his disability and how well he coped with it. Peter and I had always clashed a bit and whilst we were civil with each other (sometimes), there was always a bit of a distance between us. That didn’t stop us from buying and selling things from each other over the years. This time I sold him my Elvis Presley blue vinyl limited edition of “Moody Blue” album for £5 as I wanted to buy an LCD digital watch. For years, afterwards, Peter would tell me how much that album was worth, just to taunt me. So, just before writing this I checked online and they generally go for about £10 on eBay, not that that’s important of course, but then again LCD watches aren’t too pricey nowadays either.
* * *
The weekends on the ward were very quiet so when I was going back home for a weekend I asked mum if Lee could come too. She said yes.
When I introduced them to each other I felt I had to warn her that he smoked. She looked at him and said, “Do you want one of mine?”
“Aw, thanks very m’ch Angela,” he said.
* * *
27th September 2018
Tomorrow I’ll be driving almost 300 miles to see Lee. 40 years have passed and we are still good friends. You never know when you’re meeting a friend for life but in a way you do, because you don’t find friends, you recognise them.
* * *
Whilst we were there for the weekend John’s brother, Edward, helped me walk down to the record shop in Carshalton, I was using crutches. He was very accommodating too, well that was until I started taking ages to choose a record.
“Come on Simon, I haven’t got all day,” he said whilst chuckling the way one does just before one loses one’s temper.
I bought a pink vinyl Elvis album to try to deal with the trauma of an adult not understanding the complexities of choosing an album.
* * *
The next time an adult took me out and didn’t play ball things went a bit differently. One of the volunteer visitors offered to take me out to an adventure playground for disabled children in Fulham. When we got there, it was closed. I don’t know what I said but for some reason, he thought it’d be a good idea to try sticking a bit of holy down the back of my T-shirt. My reaction was quite as expected, to lift my shoulders up and arch my back. Unfortunately for him my crutches, which were attached to my arms, went upwards too and one of them caught him in the balls. He dropped to the floor and writhed around in agony. I apologised profusely, whilst feeling quite proud of myself.
* * *
39 years after Stephen was born he and his wife had their first child. I’m pretty sure John was 39 too when Stephen was born too. As we get older our minds can’t resist seeing patterns in our family histories, just like it can’t stop seeing faces in patterns, symbols in the stars, animals in the clouds and echoes of the past in our present.
Stephen and his wife Sarah have just held a Christening for their son George.
On the way there I’d picked up Edward. He is a priest and lives in a retirement home for clergy people. I made my way to the reception. A nun was sitting there.
“Hello, how can I help you?” She smiled at me
“I’ve come to pick up Edward”
“Don’t you mean Father Edward?” She wasn’t smiling anymore
“No,” I said “Uncle Edward”
“Do you mean Monsignor Edward” she glared at me
“Yes, that’s the one,” I said.
So, after the Christening, I drove Edward back. The food at the event was finger food so we were all a bit hungry still so I decided to stop off at a McDonalds en-route.
“Do you want a burger Edward?” I asked
“No I’m fine thank you”
“Are you sure?”
“Well go on then, thank you”
He stayed in the car whilst we went off to get the food.
When we came back we passed him the burger and he tucked in.
“Oh my goodness,” he says, mid-munch, in a very BBC accent. “It’s delicious, it’s lovely!”
Me and my kids looked at each other thinking “It’s just a cheeseburger”.
But the thing was, he was used to good quality food and hadn’t experienced the joys of rubbish food often enough. I’m not saying McDonald’s is rubbish, but you know what I mean. I felt proud to have reminded him of a world he’d obviously been protected from for far too long. Remembering the record shop incident, I was a bit tempted to tell him to hurry up and say “C’mon we haven’t got all day”, but even I’m not that cruel.
* * *
Six weeks after the amputation I took my first steps with a prosthetic foot. It fitted on by sliding my stump into a socket made of leather which in turn slid into an outer metal shell that had a foot on the end of it and stayed fixed to my leg by a strap that tightened above and around my knee. It took a bit of time to get used to walking again and I couldn’t help but worry my scar would split open at any point and I’d bleed to death. But in no time at all, I was almost back to normal, although I could no longer skateboard, which for a teenager back then was a major disaster only resolved by buying another Elvis album.
* * *
Our new home was a standard suburban house, 3 bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs, a kitchen, a front and back living room downstairs, and a garage to the side. This one was slightly odd in that it was a corner plot so it had a very small triangular garden at the back with some more garden to the side and at the front.
The man who had lived there beforehand had been a keen “Do It Yourself” practitioner so in the back room there was a massive brick feature around the fireplace, false beams on the ceiling, mock wooden paneling in the hallway and best of all furry flock wallpaper. I would sometimes stand there stroking it to make our new “old” cat called “Shreddie” jealous. When we met him during the house buying process he’d seemed very nice, whereas his wife came over as a bit of a battle axe.
One evening, soon after we’d moved in we were watching TV in the back room when the window swung open and the curtains started billowing about in the wind. Mum said, “Ooh, that was just like a ghost coming in like you see in the movies.”
That night there was a knock on the door. Two police officers were there and informed mum and John that the previous owner had just killed himself by driving into a bridge at speed. The car was still registered to that address so that’s why they came there. Mum gave them his new address details. I would often wonder if his spirit was in the house and hoped he was happier with us than with you know who.
* * *
The weather is turning cold. Autumn is almost upon us. When the sea mists come in the temperature drops. My stump gets very cold when I get even slightly cold. A few years ago I fell on it which caused some permanent damage, that in turn caused a lump to develop which had to be removed, that took 3 months of not walking to heal. I’ve been diagnosed with microvascular disease which in time will affect the bigger vessels. What this all means is that I may well have to have a bit more of my leg cut off in the not too distant future.
* * *
The archetype for time is not a clock, anyway that has a face. There’s always Old Father Time but I reckon my own archetype for time doesn’t have a face, it doesn’t give much away at all. It’s like one of those Mummers, it doesn’t want to be recognised.
* * *